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Make your university days count- take your chances and see the world - Elma Orucevic

Elma Orucevic

Make your university days count- take your chances and see the world

Ma name is Elma Orucevic and as a former student and associate of the Dzemal Bijedic University, of Mostar, I was asked to share some lines with current and prospective students. And former ones, in case they are - as I am, (MO)stalgic.

In a world full of opportunities, it is easy to lose oversight or to navigate through what you would like and recognize what is beneficial for you. What chances to take, and how to take seemingly life-changing decisions.

If you were born in the Balkans as I was, you carry an additional burden of self-doubts and the feeling of never being enough. The etiquette of a war child haunts you every step you go, and the trauma your parents survived while navigating you through life with fear and overprotection. Clearly, when you look at the childhood of someone from Western Europe, you were disadvantaged and your stories of landmine education and sitting in classrooms with broken windows without heating for westerners will seem exotic and something that only belonged to the previous war generations. But the challenging childhood you had has given you persistence and a “can do” attitude you should cherish. That is why your achievements, later on, will count for so much more as your starting point in life was below zero, for many others it was much more advanced from the start.

Above all this, I would say the worst is to not take decisions and to later have regrets - for untaken trips, unspoken ideas, missed opportunities, and perfect moments that slipped our attention. Fear, self-doubt, and self-sabotage often lead us to do things that keep us in our comfort zone. Surely, comfort is great, warm, known, and comforting but it rarely challenges us. However, the challenge is what we need to meet ourselves and grow.

Leaving a place, your family, your favorite lunch spots and bars, relationships you were building for years, your safe environment and place for which you know how it functions and breathes is not easy, but the world is so much more than what we see.

At the age of 30, I lived in six countries and speak seven languages.
I worked for the California state senate and the European parliament.

I could not say this if ten years ago I listened to my environment, self-doubts, voices from around screaming that I will never be as happy and successful if I leave the stability I have built.

Knocking on dozens of doors, leaving jobs, going through the never-ending tiring humiliating visa procedures seemed to give more credits to the doubters and “told you so” people. By the fiftieth rejection letter, you really believe that you just cause yourself the trouble and should have stayed in your peace instead of challenging your destiny.

Once you leave, you feel everything from euphoria to depression, to loss of yourself and finding yourself new all over again. It is scary as you feel at times like an abandoned, scared child in a new big city where everyone seems to know the way, except for you.

Even taking the right public transport is a challenge and when you miss another appointment because you left at the wrong station and found yourself in the rain, without an umbrella and realize you forgot the homework for your after-work language class, you just want to sit in the rain and cry. Not to mention the people behind the counter yelling in a strange language at you and you cannot even answer.

These moments come back in different forms but in the aftermath, you look back at them with a smile and you wish you would hug yourself and tell yourself that it will all be worth it, eventually.

Changing the university for the first time was a challenge I thought I would not overcome. Two weeks after the start of the classes, I was sure I would quit and fail miserably as I did not understand a word. Everyone around seemed advanced and I was sitting there not being able to log in to the university website. Once the initial shock was over, you learn step by step that this is all part of the process. You also randomly find your new favorite coffee place in the street behind your apartment. Before you know it, your paper was chosen to be presented in your class as an example of good research. You meet people from all corners of the world and hear stories that you never thought you would have the honor to hear in person. Every person you meet along the way leaves an impact, be it just for the moment but to some, you keep coming back even years later. You meet new friends and all of a sudden, you find out that you are interested in things you would never have had the chance to try in your hometown. You travel more; spend your evening with internationals dancing in Cuban bars and later at a jazz concert of artists from the US. You cook Syrian food at the house of your Maltese friend and add some Bosnian spices to it.

If I had listened to the fears and self-doubts, I would have probably stayed at my 9-5 job at home and never had the dining experiences, the cries in the rain, the panic of being lost in the metro in NYC, the trembling in my body when I took high-level politicians through corridors of the European parliament as a 23-year-old Bosnian girl who barely knew where the room was.

This article is not a professional journalistic story, as I am a journalist by training, and political advisor by choice, but rather the advice of someone who has been where you are today.

It is ok to be lost and to crave security and safety. But there is more to life than that.

You will find yourself and learn to reinvent your life. The way there is never easy, and nobody will tell you, as you will just see the smiling faces from fancy dinners and receptions with “important people” (or just people who actually have the same fears and doubts as you do, and mostly just want to have a coffee break and take a breath alone outside).

If you did not like the experience, you also learn what is not for you and come back home richer for another adventure and it is also fine.

Ask yourself if this is where you want to be in life and if you are truly happy.

If not, take chances, search for them, step over all the rejections and find yourself in jobs you never thought you would be doing or places you never imagined you would study at. You have the strength in yourself to become whoever you want to be. Do not be afraid to take it.

Once you manage to succeed, which is relative and means a different deal to us all, do not forget who helped you along the way and give back to people who are where you used to be. Life starts when you start believing (in) yourself.

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